Revitalization

Uneducated Decision on 100 Main West

By Dan Jelly
Published July 07, 2011

Why does any progress Downtown always seem to cost us so much?

So many agree that we have a problem downtown with vacant buildings and gaps where buildings once stood, and so many agree that something needs to be done to prevent further needless demolition.

Why then, is our beautiful Board of Education building, a building currently in use, under threat of demolition at the hands of McMaster University?

Board of Education building under threat
Board of Education building under threat

I would love to see Mac increase their presence in the Downtown core. I would even support seeing City funds given or lent to the project.

Why, however, do we need to build it at 100 Main West? With the Board of Education long out of the picture in terms of direct participation, why are we still considering using this particular parcel of land?

Surely we aren't lacking viable space Downtown. Surely, between the City and the University there has to be a more creative, mutually beneficial option.

Can we not adapt the existing structure? Can we not consider using the adjoining parking lot? Can we not negotiate something with Vrancor, owners of the vast sea of parking lots to the West of this property? There are so many options that we aren't even considering. That is inexcusable.

The crux of the problem is that once the Board of Ed. declared the property surplus, McMaster only had a 90 day window to arrange the partnership and funding and in turn, they have only given Council two weeks.

This quickly became another Pan Am-style shotgun to our proverbial heads, as we're now left scrambling to evaluate a complex partnership and funding model in a matter of days.

Once we start to consider that this project does not need to happen at 100 Main West, we will suddenly find ourselves with a much more reasonable amount of time in which to work.

While this leaves the Board of Education in an awkward situation, it may end up saving us all a lot of headaches, money, and a perfectly viable, beautiful building. Perhaps the Board will just have to stay downtown after all.

This was first published on Dan's personal website.

Dan Jelly is a life-long resident of downtown Hamilton and occasional blogger. You can visit his website.

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By Count Vrancula (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 05:28:29

It looks like a great location for surface parking for my new hotel.I have a brother who will preserve the wonderful carvings on the front of the building; He's opening a new brothel in Istanbul, they'd look great in the lobby

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By Logo (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 10:35:26 in reply to Comment 65795

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2011 at 09:05:23 in reply to Comment 65827

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Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-07-09 09:09:26

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By screen name (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2011 at 16:39:05 in reply to Comment 65913

Grow corn.Take pictures.Tell us about it in a proper Article or Blog signed post. stop bothering the rest of us without your math that nobody much cares about 'cept your compulsion to do it--get help!

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 07:00:45

Two words: Highway visibility.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2011 at 07:46:05

Only in Hamilton would we begin by knocking down a grand civic building (classical allusions on two sides) for a project that can only be built if the City of Hamilton agrees to rent a ton of space in it. All this while an empty lot sits to the north of the site and is part of the land McMaster will own.

Why not reverse the thinking and start with the parking lot? Let McMaster build Phase 1 there and leave the BOE building alone for the moment. They can continue to search out partners who will support adaptive re-use of the Joe Singer-designed building.

Dan, you're right. This Pan-Am style shotgun negotiating is shameful on the part of McMaster. Not only that, but it makes our Councillors look even more misguided. Just look at the Future Fund decision making and dithering. Just like HECFI.

"Act before thinking". Perhaps that should be Hamilton's new motto? While my Latin is not terrific, I think that translates into Mostus stupidus.

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By Logo (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 09:50:51 in reply to Comment 65803

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 10:33:13 in reply to Comment 65815

I'd be the first to admit that there are lots of flaws with our downtown, if only to discuss how to improve it, but excess green space isn't one of them and never will be.

Main Street West is one of the primary arteries into and through our Core. City Hall and the Board of Education send a clear signal to visitors that they have arrived in Downtown Hamilton. When we made the decision to preserve City Hall, we preserved that important impression. The next step should be to ensure that the other half of that important pairing is properly maintained.

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By Akbar (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 11:16:07 in reply to Comment 65825

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 14:42:16 in reply to Comment 65843

While comparing Main Street to the 403 may be appropriate in a sense, that's a conversation for another day. Equating the value of greenspace in a living, breathing downtown to that along a length of suburban freeway is a bit of a stretch.

It's precisely the windows and the rotunda that make the Board of Education building remarkable in its surroundings. It's not a brutalist, windowless, concrete cube that became the mode during the decades that followed its construction. It's the kind of building that other cities would cherish.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 08:32:41

The city owns a really nice parcel by the west harbour. Put it there.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2011 at 09:14:33

There is certainly merit to this story but I am having trouble with registered users sucking up to the fang-tooth vampire remark right from the start.

Does the victim of this vile slur.p hail from Romania, Transylvania, suck blood or what? I don't know if I should vote down or up?

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-07-08 09:27:37

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By Idea (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 09:17:10

Here's an alternative: The cost of the school board land is about $10M. Buy the land with the building and give it to Mac for their Humanities Department for $1 (they just got $45M from the province so they can take care of renovations). Use the other $10M of city money to buy the federal building from Vranich and use that for the medical campus. That's a better use of $20M and it preserves the building AND it gets more of McMaster downtown.

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By Bob Lee (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 10:30:12 in reply to Comment 65810

not a bad idea,but doubt Vranich would sell. Instead how about Mac puts continuing ed in the BoE building, then put the medical centre there? That building's unremarkable and right in the middle of the downtown people actually visit. Compare Main and John to Main and Bay, one is far superior for the downtown presence Mac is seeking.

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By Land (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 10:45:58

History lesson folks: The city gave the school board that land so that they would locate in the core. Why are we now going to buy back our gift to them so that they can use the money to leave the core and build on the mountain taking more jobs with them. There is so much wrong with this. I want Mac downtown, but the school board needs to show some leadership too and stay downtown. If they want to leave, they should be giving the land back for free which would lessen the city required contribution to this whole thing.

I don't understand this town - we plead poverty and then proceed to spend top dollar on second rate solutions.

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By HamiltonBrian (registered) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 11:35:07 in reply to Comment 65831

They definitely need to stay downtown, but the BoE hasn't shown leadership in this area for years. That building makes a good place for inservices because it is somewhat central around the region. But no, they would rather rent out banquet centres on the east mountain or east Stoney Creek or require people to travel west to Maple Lane.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 11:07:13

School Board has already decided it's too expensive to stay downtown. The building at 100 Main Street, while it looks amazing on the outside, is in serious trouble inside, or so I've been told by people working there.

If there was a developer willing to take this on, and pay more than McMaster is, I'm sure he would have come forward publicly already to get council's attention.

It's unfortunate but the Board of Ed doesn't want to save this building, and unless someone else steps forward and says "I will", Mac's plan is the only one for this site currently.

There is only so much land the City can be responsible for remediating downtown. They did it to City Hall, and the Lister - they can't afford to do it to every property.

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By Actually... (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 12:48:52 in reply to Comment 65838

Let's get the order of things straight - The School Board decided to leave the core and then proceeded along a process to that end. Their accommodations review process is a sham (just read about the other processes concerning school closures.) There were plenty of alternatives including long-term low-cost lease in some commercial space elsewhere in the downtown, but the people running the Board (e.g. staff) wanted to move to the mountain. They are on the record as not liking downtown ("It's unsafe, no parking") plus in the first round of building "education square" in which they were a tenant, they insisted on full parking for everyone on someone else's dime - that's what essentially killed the whole deal.

Robert - It is actually more expensive to go to the mountain than finding cheaper alternatives downtown (eg. leasing). The reality (as mentioned by board chair Bishop) is that they won't have the money to build new (mountain or elsewhere) unless they sell the land that the city gave them so it is going to be the City who is paying for them to move. I say that they either build new in the core or we don't give them money for the land that we actually gave them for free in the first place. If they don't want to do that, they should give the land back for free and let them decide what they are going to on their own dime. They are an elected body, just like city council so they are accountable for what they are doing.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 14:10:57 in reply to Comment 65850

I can't speak to your first point other than to say that having been in the building once, the interior was definitely dated, and I wouldn't be surprised if it did have the types of problems typical of buildings of its vintage. That said, I would also believe that the Board made their decision and then looked for reasons to justify it.


Only problem with your proposed solution in the second paragraph is that if we gave them the land outright, it's not really ours to dictate what happens with it. Had council wanted to exercise that control, they could have found ways to do so (100 year lease, covenant on the land, collateral contract, etc.).

If it's true the City gave them the land outright, well, then the City really has no option to say what should happen to it.

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By HW (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 16:12:50 in reply to Comment 65853

insult spam deleted

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 14:47:08 in reply to Comment 65853

Conversely, since it's the Board's decision to move, neither we as a City nor McMaster as an institution owes the Board anything.

However, if left to an open purchase, what are the odds that Vrancor would purchase the land and put in a parking lot, with promises of one of his "Someday Maybe" hotel projects?

There must be a better solution. Again, I'm deeply disappointed that we're not able to hail this as a full step forward without having to consider the two steps back of losing both the Board's presence AND their iconic building downtown.

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By Jim Rudnick (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 16:05:29

My own thoughts still resonate with the MIPs centre area for same...

But, if it "needs" to be further "in" Hamilton...what about some refurbishment of Stelco property...doesn't seem like they intend to use it to make steel, eh!

:-)

Jim

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 22:12:27 in reply to Comment 65876

I actually thought the south part of MIP (empty land right now) was supposed to be the site for the medical center. Moving to the BoE building doesn't seem to be in Mac's interest unless the city steps up with money/commitment.

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By Plover (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2011 at 00:03:22

Dan Jelly is smoking something if he thinks that this asbestos infested building is worth saving. Tear it down and let McMaster pay to build their monument.

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By Think Harder Homer (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2011 at 11:58:59 in reply to Comment 65909

We'd still have to remove and dispose of the Asbestos. It's hazardous waste and doesn't just disappear when a wrecking ball shows up.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2011 at 23:30:56

I've been in 100 Main more times than I can count for work, and it's definitely showing many of the signs of ageing that were commonplace in City Hall before the renovations.

What stands out far more than any actual form of decay is how out-of-time the building looks. It's a shining example of 60s/70s public architecture, and what seemed delightfully futuristic at the time now appears a little dated. This is a trend which has only gotten far worse since structures like 100 Main were built, with each successive generation of buildings attempting to redefine architectural aesthetics, leaving buildings far younger than me looking "outdated" increasingly quickly.

So why save it? Because when it was built, they still used a lot of higher-quality materials like marble and actual copper/brass panels etc. Newer buildings, tend to use far cheaper materials (ie: styrofoam stucco and stamped sheet steel), since the expectation is that it'll all soon be remodelled anyway. A building like 100 Main poses a lot of challenges, but if done right, the possibilities are a lot more grand.

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By Downtown Downer (anonymous) | Posted July 10, 2011 at 18:55:21

How much did it cost to do the city hall reno? Surely it wouldn't come anywhere near that for the BOE building. However, if they were going to rip off the outsides of it and fabricate like city hall whats the point? Someone somewhere will create a Fustercluck out of this.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 10, 2011 at 23:08:57

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

Some really golden quotes as usual...

"Once the board pulls out I’m afraid it will become a white elephant or an eyesore,” he said. “I’d rather see it torn down than to become a derelict."

Council also appears to be getting shy on this issue, especially around the future fund...

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted July 10, 2011 at 23:24:38 in reply to Comment 65948

“McMaster just doesn’t have a good record about creating esthetically pleasing buildings,” he said. “They desecrated the sunken gardens there to build the current medical centre and that has to be the ugliest building in Christendom.”

Yes indeed, some good quotes.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 11, 2011 at 23:35:22 in reply to Comment 65950

I was wondering who would quote that one. Laughed out loud when I read it.

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By Phhhhffffftttt (anonymous) | Posted July 11, 2011 at 10:54:53

How many lives did the sunken gardens save? Not counting the blow jobs university students would get when necking there!!

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted July 11, 2011 at 20:32:49

I'll go with the unpopular comment and say preserve the statue on the west side of the building and the entryway mural and knock the rest of it down. It looks like a poorly maintained grotesque mockery of a stack of harmonicas. I'd much rather see an increase in students in the core to add further density, and a new, modern facility go up then to see another excessively budgeted preservation project for a building that adds little to the core. There are simply larger, and nicer buildings we should be focusing on, with the Royal Connaught being the most blatantly obvious one, and reworking the convention center into something more then the brick box it currently looks like being another one.

However, an even better solution would be to wipe out the mass of surface parking at John, Hughson, Wilson and Rebecca and put the facility there, or bulldoze that awful Bingo Hall.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-07-11 20:39:02

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By C'mon Now! (anonymous) | Posted July 11, 2011 at 22:47:47

C'mon, now! You can't be seriously supporting the Jelly Bean boys for wanting to preserve anything that hasn't fallen down, even those buildings with toxic crap in them? Boys let me spell it out for you P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S!!!!! That's what we need in this city.

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